July 31, 2006
Transaction of the Day
Bobby Abreu to the Yankees
Master strokes rarely fix two problems simultaneously, but whether you want to consider this a case of Brian Cashman making a simply outstanding deal, or the Phillies dumping salary to the one team that is consistently willing to absorb more, or some combination thereof, this quite simply fixes the Yankees in a way that single trades rarely achieve.
The Yankees offense currently ranks third in baseball in Equivalent Average with a .281 EqA. Before they lost Hideki Matsui, they were scoring 6.2 runs per game and were posting a team EqA of .294. Since losing Matsui on May 11, they have been scoring just 5.3 runs per nine, and their team EqA during that stretch is .276--still better than 25 teams, but even further behind the Blue Jays, and behind both flavors of Sox squads, Red and White, their chief rivals for the AL East and for the wild card (respectively).
That doesn't allow for Gary Sheffield's brief (and relatively powerless) return at the end of May, but basically, a lot of that is the difference between Matsui and Sheff before, and trying to get by with some combination of Andy Phillips, Bernie Williams, Melky Cabrera since. Add in the loss of Robinson Cano to a strained hamstring, and trying to get by with Miguel Cairo in his place, and adding a big hitter made all sorts of sense. With Matsui due back in August, the Yankees will be in a much more comfortable place as an offensive ballclub, with Matsui and Abreu playing every day, and that same combination of replacements (Williams, Phillips and Cabrera) only getting starts out of one slot in the lineup. At that point, the Yankees bench will go from relatively empty to an asset that even Joe Torre might be comfortable enough to use.
Similarly, the rotation finally has a fifth man who doesn't automatically make you wonder who's available for a multi-inning middle-relief gig. Consider the combined performances of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Aaron Small and Kris Wilson:
Pitcher GS Tm W/L IP H BB K HR R R/9 QS Chacon 11 5-6 52.0 62 30 28 8 42 7.3 3 (none after May 6) Small 3 1-2 12.0 23 4 6 6 13 9.7 0 Ponson 2 1-1 9.0 10 6 10 3 10 10.0 0 K.Wilson 1 0-1 2.2 5 2 4 1 3 10.1 0 TOTAL 17 7-10 75.2 100 42 48 18 68 8.1 3 Lidle 21 10-11 125.1 132 39 98 19 74 5.3 14
That's three games that Chacon provided that most teams with a normal offense can win, none since May 6. Now, admittedly, I'm fudging something with Lidle, in that I'm counting two more quality starts than other sources, but that's because he lost two quality starts in the seventh inning, after he'd already given the Phillies the standard six innings while allowing three or fewer runs. (I refer to those as Blown Quality Starts, or BQS, probably my first and only contribution to the universe's statistical alphabet soup.) So, to give Lidle his due, the man has pitched winnable ballgames in two-thirds of his starts despite having a hitters' park as his home, and despite having to pitch 13 of his 21 starts in said bandbox. Now, even if he's "just" a six-inning starter, and even if he's just a 75-pitch starter, he's giving his team outings they can work with to win. Sure, he'll have to face the DH instead of the pitcher's slot, and he'll probably also have to face the Yankees' tough opponents in the East. Even so, he won't be pitching in Philadelphia. As long as somebody gives Joe Torre a good set of instructions on how to operate his shiny pre-owned fifth starter, the Yankees have themselves a major upgrade in the rotation that's almost as significant as Abreu will be in the lineup.
My WAG? The Yankees probably just added four wins in the final 60 games, with Lidle probably being every bit as responsible for that as Abreu. That's not just an upgrade, that's a massive difference, and a reflection on what's being replaced. This doesn't simply help the Yankees keep up with the competition, they now have a much better shot at winning not merely the wild card, but their own division, and they can better withstand an injury in either their rotation or lineup than before.
What did it take to get this good stuff? Not a lot, but let's save the chortling over the Phillies' misfortune for their segment. Effectively, beyond the randomly-generated farm talent, they've also re-employed the money that was already going to Sheffield if they'd picked up his option for 2007. You can now rest assured that they won't be picking that option up, and that they'll now have Abreu plugged in for next season's lineup. That, too, should be an upgrade, as if the Yankees didn't need any further breaks. (Lidle is a free agent this winter, for what that's worth.) Although PECOTA projected that Sheffield will be the better hitter over the next couple of seasons, that was last winter, before this year's injury problems. The difference between Abreu's iron-man routine as a 32-year-old and Sheffield's return to breakability now that he's 37 makes a major difference in what their likely forecasts will be through 2008, so I'd see this as another plus for the Yankees.
So, Pat Gillick's taking the savings to finance a local theater production of "No, No, Nanette"? I know, that's an urban legend, but this very much ended up being a salary dump. Whatever Gillick's reputation is from years past, there is no Fred McGriff lurking in the bottom of this deal, and the "headliners" are more dinner-theater stars than names you remember. Yes, I very much like Smith and what he can do for a team, now and into the future. Yee-ha, they won't have to pick up their $3 million option on Rheal Cormier if they don't want to. Sanchez and Monasterios are playing down in the Gulf Coast League, and the most we can say about them is that Sanchez is a catch-and-throw guy with a weak bat, and Monasterios throws hard but has spotty command of everything else.
The name prospect in the deal is Henry, the Yankees' 2005 first-rounder. He's very much the kind of prospect Gillick can get worked up about, an ath-a-lete's athlete: fast, strong-armed, rangy and still pretty far from growing up to be a baseball player. In his full-season debut down in the Sally League, he's been something other than good: .237/.326/.350. His walk rate might be the highlight of his offensive performance, as he's drawn 32 free passes in 314 PA. He's also managed to steal 14 bags in 17 attempts, so that's a good thing. Afield, he's every bit as spotty, but he's supposed to have the physical tools to be a good shortstop. At least he's only 20, but he's probably not going to be ready for the Florida State League next year, and Double-A? Who knows if he'll make it that far, because it remains to be seen if his long-swinging stroke will ever be able to hit a Double-A breaking pitch. As Kevin Goldstein put it, "you're really betting on his athleticism--if it works, he's sort of a bigger Jimmy Rollins, if it doesn't, he's nothing." If this deal depends on Henry's panning out, you should have an idea of how much the package received from the Yankees depends on your ability to wishcast all sorts of dreamy things.
Which basically means that this deal is about the money saved, and whatever the Phillies use it on in the future. Even then, by failing to get value for Abreu, Gillick has failed in his responsibility to help his club, and has perhaps betrayed a fundamental disinterest in the team he inherited from Ed Wade. It wouldn't be atypical of Gillick that he's more invested in the long-term goal of fixing one of the game's most fundamentally broken franchises, but you could consider my bringing it up after he's screwed up dealing Abreu for value as badly as he has as an overly charitable gesture. But even there, he didn't even acquire significant farm players, not the Philip Hughes or Erick Aybar types necessarily, but at least players who might shine amidst the rest of the dreck he inherited from Wade down on the farm. Instead, all Gillick got from a major move is a major-league-ready lefty, three guys who fit right in as far as populating a farm system longer on hype than talent, and financial freedom. Although we have to see what he'll do with the last of those three, this was what we might politely refer to as a setback.
Among my colleagues, credit is due to both Clay Davenport and Kevin Goldstein for their timely answers to my questions.